Saturday, July 30, 2011

China: The week that was

Wenzhou Train Crash

News out of China and internationally focused very much this week on the very fast train accident in Wenzhou
Zhejiang Provence. The accident occurred on Saturday July 23rd at around 8:30 pm when a bullet train collided into the back of a stalled train in Wenzhou, causing six carriages to derail, four of which fell off a 15-meter-high bridge.

In all, as of today, the death toll stands at 40 with another 200 injured. Victims have been promised the equivalent of US$142,000 in compensation, twice more than previous compensation deals. Unfortunately, most of the reporting, both within China and internationally, took the accident as an opportunity to point the finger at the government, exploring a myriad of scenarios and throwing accusations as to what and whom was to blame for the tragedy. I say unfortunately because although the accident needs a full and transparent investigation there were human beings who died and were injured. This seemed to be very much of secondary consideration to the blame game that went on.

The Chinese Communist Party and the central government have lost much face over this incident especially as it comes so close behind the over the top celebrations and self congratulations of the CCP's 90th anniversary.

Rest assured, however, that this severe loss of face will have very negative consequences for China.

The CCP has no other option, at this time, but to bow to the criticism and public outrage as expressed by Chinese citizens through the Internet, the international press and even from it's own news organs. Have no doubts however that the back room boys of the Party will not be taking it lightly and it will give further credence to the belief, among some, that the Party has become weak and therefore very vulnerable. With elections next year hardliners will now have an even greater influence than perhaps they already do.

If there is a lesson in this for the CCP and the government is that they now play in the real world and they had better pull together a very good team of 'Spin Doctors' because this is not the last time they will be needed.

Death of a Street Vendor

Other bad news which I have already blogged on here was the death of a one legged street vendor in Anshun City, Guazhou where it is alleged the vendor died as a result of the heavy handedness of the much despised Chennguan, China's urban management officers. Since that blog post one of the attending Chennguan has been detained, a euphemism for arrested, and the City's head of Urban law enforcement has been sacked.

The Chennguan are, for want of a better description somewhere between a Park Ranger and the Police. There main role in most big towns and cities is to enforce laws on illegal street vending, begging, loitering and the like. Their roles however are very poorly defined and their heavy handedness has many times resulted in serious injury and death. They are as more despised by the general population than the miscreants they continue to roust.

Saving The Children

Better news out of the week was the report on the freeing of 89 children and young adults who had been kidnapped by human trafficking rings. Some were only babies, most were females.

The government also released a report stating that 27,388 people had been rescued in 2009-2010, 3573 trafficking gangs busted and 22,550 arrested for human trafficking.

Maybe the tip of an iceberg but officials appear to be taking this issue very seriously, to their credit.

Kids and their toys....

Finally, for this week, because as the saying goes "there are a hundred untold stories in a big city' and there is not enough space to recount them here, is the story of the continuing meteoric rise of China exemplified by reports that China's refurbished, second hand, aircraft carrier is shortly due to be commissioned.

For some reason this has drawn a lot of attention in the west with people saying that it proves China's military intentions are to be the dominate force in Asia, that it is expansionist and ultimately a threat to US's hegemony in the region. Places like Australia, it has been reported, are supposedly fearful of this new Chinese development. I however, like the Philippines in this article, am not so concerned and  I think I can speak for the majority of average Australians that we really could not give two hoots.

This aircraft carrier is of little strategic importance much less a threat to all but the very smallest of countries in the region. If I was Fijian and it sailed into Suva I might be a tad concerned but otherwise it's importance lays solely in it's symbolism.

An aircraft carrier's strategic importance is in it's ability to project power and we see this in the United States Strategic Carrier Strike Groups. These CSG's power projection comes from a very impressive array of hardware and very professional manpower all developed over 60 years. A CSG would  normally include the following: 

  • 1 Aircraft carrier
  • 2 Guided missile destroyers
  • 2 anti aircraft warships 
  • 1-2 Anti submarine destroyers
  • 65 -70 aircraft
  • Several logistic ships and sometimes a 
  • submarine or even two.

That is what is needed in force projection and that takes generations of training and ongoing service and development to achieve

No the Chinese carrier is a symbol to it's people only at this stage and for a generation at least 

It is a symbol for the rest of the world of not that China is as a world economic and military power now, but what it could be.

Five Questions about China's aircraft carrier

Have a good week and may you, in opposition of the old Chinese curse, not "live in interesting times"


Thursday, July 28, 2011

China's detested Chengguan Alledgedly Kill Street Vendor

China's urban paramilitary "police", the Chengguan, are accused of killing a one-legged street vendor in cold blood and in open view of thousands of startled passers by.

The incident occurred in Anshui, southwestern Guizhou province on July 26 in the early afternoon when the streets were packed with shoppers and passersby.

According to several reports three Chengguan officials, who are city enforcement officers charged with policing urban by-laws,  attacked the vegetable street vendor killing him. All major news agencies in China, for example the Macao Daily , reported the incident saying the usual in such incidents

 “Guizhou provincial government and party committee take great notice of it, require s swift investigation, handling with a strict adherence to the law, and a maintenance of social stability.”

(Warning the following article contains very graphic images of the incident. I have linked to another report at end of this entry that does not carry images)

 According to a report from the "Ministry of Tofu",  a weblog covering social justice issues in China,

Thousands of civilians at the scene exploded in indignation and surrounded the chengguan squad. Then in order for the chengguan to break out of the encirclement, riot police arrived with shields, tear gas and water cannon to suppress the protesters. Even gun shots were heard, according to a micro blogger. Several civilians were brutally injured during the clash with the police, at least three, judging by all pictures available on the web, with much blood on their faces due to blows to their heads.

The civilians overturned a vehicle in the incident but no arrests have been reported. In an act of kindness some civilians shaded the street vendors body with parasols a protection against the sun

China's Chengguan are much detested throughout China for their bullying and sometimes extreme violence, particularly against unlicensed street vendors and migrant workers. Often they will destroy all of the street vendor's goods and trolleys as well as subject them to verbal and physical abuse.

Another report

Shanghai Daily  Crowds block street over death of street vendor

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

China: Last Say on the Hotan Incident

My last two entries have related to the reported Hotan Incident in Xinjiang, China on July 18th.

Without going into details, for you are welcome to view the blog entries here, I had come to the conclusion that the "incident" as reported by the Chinese Government, the World Uyghur Congress and the media generally just did not add up. That there was something wrong on so many levels.

I have, frustratingly, and despite posting to Twitter and on G+, not been able to engender any enthusiasm for the story.

I had hoped that a journalist may have had a look at what my analysis contends and using resources that I, as a layman, do not have, look a little more deeply into the story.

Obviously some others have their reservations too. A couple of days after my original blog entry there have been three other mentions alluding to some of the issues I had problems with.

The first blog entry was by Xinjiang Far West China entitled  "What Really Happened in the Hotan Riots?" the author of the blog Josh Summers makes the following observations quoted verbatim

  • China Daily claims that this attack took place at the “Naarburg Street police station” and even shows a picture. What you don’t realize it that this picture is actually cropped. The original photo reveals a sign that says this police station is located at 357 East TaiBei Street. I think I know why this is, but the picture cropping still seems sketchy to me.
  • Peter Dixie, a follower of FWC on Twitter, noted the presence of Chinese fireworks on the steps of the police station in the picture above. Important? I’m not sure. But I do know that most police don’t blow up fireworks in their spare time.

Josh does not elaborate on the significance of the identification of the police station in question, but regardless, if he is correct why did the government identify the wrong location? Surely an incident of this magnitude would require an exact location to be reported.

Josh's second point, if true, is very important. I made the point in my analysis that the scene did not reflect that a deadly altercation occurred here that left 18 people dead. Josh points out that there is what appears to be spent fireworks on the steps of the station. Are these the "Molotov cocktails" that the Uyghurs were supposed to be armed with? Did the Uyghurs storm the police station tossing fireworks?

The next blog entry was at Xinjiang Review entitled "Understanding the Khotan violence in the Local Context: :

The author first explains why Chinese sources could have blamed outsiders for the incident

"To blame the outsiders to ignite the violence began to form a general pattern among China’s “anti-terror experts” to explain the violence committed by the Uyghurs, as clearly seen after the July 5th event."

I believe he then discounts the assertion that this was a terrorist event by explaining why a police station would be a target and I quote:

"Unlike other terrorists who selected high-value targets such as NYC or Mumbai, these Khotan “terrorists” strangely attacked a local police station in a remote oasis city. Why local police station? The Khotan incident indicates that the attackers targets what they are familiar with and, therefore, hate most, the Chinese police station. It is not a high-value target or symbolical marker and certainly does not represent an ideological ambition, be it terrorism or extremism."

Finally Voice of America (VOA) in it's article "Details of Alleged Xinjiang 'Terrorist Attack' Still Sketchy" did not offer anything new but the very fact that it was seen fit to bring up at all must points to a thought that there is doubt about this incident and it's reporting.

Unless anything startlingly new arises there is nothing more that I can add in support of my assertions and analysis.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hotan attack takes a toll on business (and logic)

In my last blog post I suggested I had serious concerns about what had been reported relating to the recent, serious, incident in Hotan Xinjiang. 

I attempted in my analysis to point to things I thought were incongruous in the reports by both the Chinese Government and the Uyghur exile community and the lack of condemnation or calls for explanations coming from the international diplomatic community.

I have linked here to an article from the South China Post from a journalist supposedly reporting from Hotan. Once again things do not add up in my mind, vis a vis the official reports. I will therefore go through the article and point to those things which seem not to stand up to scrutiny or tests of credibility.

The areas I have italicised and emboldened are those I have problems with.

In the lead the journalist states:

"Fears of further violent incidents, coupled with growing misunderstanding
 between the minority Han Chinese and the Uyghurs, is taking its toll on businesses in Hotan, Xinjiang, a week after 18 people were killed in an attack on a police station in the city."

"Growing misunderstanding"? 18 people were supposed to have died including two Han woman and the reporter's lead talks of "growing misunderstanding'?

The journalist then interviews a Han businessman, a Mr.Qu, who said, it is reported, that

owners of businesses in the Uyghur-populated region would never forget the burning to death of a Han family of six, who operated a grain and oil grocery store, by a group of Uyghurs during riots in Urumqi on July 5, 2009. 

Mr Qu talks about the burning to death of 6 Han in Urumqi two years earlier when two Han women were supposed to have been brutally murdered at the local police station just days prior?

Another interviewee, a restaurant owner, is reported to have said:

 "On the day the killing took place, I received 20 calls from relatives in my hometown and another 30 from friends in Urumqi," 

Well  it may be a translation problem or the way the interviewee speaks but "On the day of the killing..." Would not one have said on the day of the "killings"? Perhaps my Chinese friends could enlighten me if this is how a Chinese Han person would refer to an 18 person massacre.

The journalist then went on to say

"The threat of being subject to attacks is causing trepidation among Han Chinese "And this is not helped by disturbing rumours circulating in the city."

"Trepidation"? I would have thought terror perhaps.

The journalist then elaborated on the rumour, and, please note, the Tuesday referred to is the day after the incident.

"Within the Han community there is gossip that two Han Chinese lovers had their throats cut by Uygurs somewhere in the city last Tuesday evening."  

Firstly "gossip"? In a town of only 114,000 odd people of which only 3% are Han such an event could not be kept as gossip in what you would think to be a tight community of people and so soon after what supposedly transpired.

The journalist then went on to say that the police would not verify the rumour but, strangely enough, confirmed two people had been seriously injured. Now, whether two people were, or were not, injured is not the question, The question is why would any Han, especially a young female student, be out at night a day after a "massacre" which involved the deaths of two Han women in extremely violent circumstances?

Then, the icing on the cake, the following quote. I do not need to remind you we are talking about a major incident that supposedly resulted in the deaths of 18 people as a result of an attack on a police station no less, and, included four innocent people of whom two were Han women.

However, Qu, who has had Uygur friends since childhood, is still cautiously optimistic. "Time might be the only panacea for this problem," he said. "Maybe over time we can eliminate this hostility and rebuild the mutual trust between the minority Han Chinese and majority Uygurs in Hotan."

A Han man is "cautiously optimistic" that "we can eliminate this hostility and rebuild "mutual trust"?  Are these the words of a Hotan minority Han man after such a horrendous incident? Is 18 dead just "hostility"? Can one ever rebuild "mutual trust" after such a horrendous event?

I was wary of taking a final position in my previous blog but if this story is

  1. True, that the journalist actually conducted these interviews and 
  2. The journalist, or whoever lodged the this is half way a professional

then, combined with my analysis in my foregoing blog entry, I will state categorically that this incident in Hotan, as reported, did not happen.

Hotan attack takes a toll on business | China News Watch | Latest Hong Kong, China & World News |

Old formulas shape foreign coverage of China

An article in today's Chinese press looks at how the western media reports on issues and events in China.

One has to agree with the tenet of the article in that  western coverage of events and issues generally tends to be formulaic, cliché ridden and seemingly intent on showing all that is wrong with China.

Most, not all, in the media feel that criticising China makes for better "press" than reporting on China in a balanced and constructive way and, unfortunately, they are right in terms of getting reader's attention.

A headline with "One Child" in it makes better press than one that says "Population policy" The term "restive region" is so overused that it is an embarrassment and it is a catch all phrase by a reporter who really has not got a clue what is going on in the so called "Restive region".

But it is a demand driven industry. The reader demands to know everything that is bad about China. As a tweeter I see it everyday. I try as much as possible to present links that that are topical and balanced. If the China Daily writes an article praising the government for something that it has done I will pass that on to my followers. If it publishes an article that is wrong or full of Chinaspeak and propaganda I will attempt to point that out, though,  I am sure my readers can sort the wheat from the chafe of their own accord. But in saying that a 'link direct' to a story that paints China in a poor light does get more hits than a true, feel good piece.

That is what journalism is about getting and maintaining readership. The editor wants to sell 'papers' and the "Joe Blow" in the street does not want to know what is good about China only what is bad. Therein is the sad part.

The system for journalists, the real ones that is, is stacked against them.

Old formulas shape foreign coverage of China

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hotan Incident: More questions than answers?

On Monday 18, July in the city of Hotan, Xinjiang, China an incident occurred that left 18 people 'officially' dead and several injured, some seriously. By any measure a very serious affair.

I had been initially shocked and dismayed by the lack of  focus generally around the world on this very significant, incident in Hotan.

The Chinese proffered a story and the world obviously accepted it. There was no universal outcry by Human Rights groups nor western Foreign Affairs departments. Apart from some heavy 'reporting' on Twitter and several news items the silence, to me, was deafening.

As I pondered this and went back through news items something started to germinate in my mind. Something about this incident was just not right.

The more I thought about it the greater that feeling took hold. Thus this post.

The conclusions I come to make, I am sure, for an interesting discussion.

Some Background....

Hotan is an oasis town in the Tarim Basin in China's northwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The city of some 116, 000 people, of whom 93% are of the ethnic Uyghur people, nestles against the unforgiving Taklamakan Desert and has been inhabited by the Turkic Uyghur people from the 10th century.

Apart from it's exotic location it's has several claims to fame.

Firstly, it was at one time the second most famous Buddhist site in the world and today the ruins of Buddhist's monasteries are a major draw card to the wider area called the  Hotan Prefecture.

Secondly, it was a very important staging point on the southern branch of the fabled "Silk Road'. The historic trade route passed through Hotan as it wend it's ways on to India,Tibet, Central Asia and  points further west.

Today Hotan is primarily and agricultural area but has three industries that, once again, it is very famous for: carpet making, fabric making and the much sort after nephrite jade.

Many western people who visit Hotan praise it for the warmth of the people, the beauty of the scenery and the Hotan Markets which are ranked, along with the Sunday Market in Kashgar, as a must see on any tourist's itinerary.

So, on the 18th of July, the peacefulness of Hotan was supposedly shattered by what the Chinese Government has called a "premeditated terrorist attack", by Uyghurs, on a local police station.

The story from the Chinese side is that around noon of that day a crowd of Uyghur men, in their twenties through to forties, some reportedly from outside Hotan, stormed a police station near the Grand Bazaar marketplace armed with knifes, Molotov cocktails, axes and slingshots and killed four people; a policeman, a paramilitary security guard and two Han Chinese woman who happened to be at the station.

The police in response shot dead "several" of the rioters.

The Chinese further claim that the perpetrators were Islamic separatist/ terrorists for, as they ransacked and set fire to the premises, they reportedly shouted Jihadist slogans and mounted a "Free East Turkestan" banner from the roof of the police station.

Uyghur exile groups, such as the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), immediately countered in a press release saying that a peaceful demonstration by Uyghurs in the city's Grand Bazaar was fired upon by the Police killing several which incited the Uyghurs to storm the police station to take hostages to use as a negotiating tool. No mention was made by the WUC  as to casualties other than the protesters.

 Hotan historically, apart from one instance, has been free of the unrest that has troubled the rest of Xinjiang in the period from the Ghulja (Yining) Riots in 1997 to the Urumqi riots in 2009. A period that saw many Uyghurs and Han  killed and numerous Uyghurs imprisoned and executed.

The one exception to this occurred in Hotan in 2008 when a demonstration against the death in police custody of an Uyghur businessman and general complaints turned nasty resulting in the arrest of 700. Despite the fact that reportedly 1000 Uyghurs participated in that demonstration, held coincidentally in the same bazaar, there was no reports of serious injury or death. So peaceful is Hotan normally that a policeman contacted by a Chinese journalist after the recent incident said "such attacks are very rare here"

How then did this Incident happen? Which side is to be believed?

Reporting and Witnesses

The news reports by the Chinese press such as the China Daily, People's Daily and Global Times, all organs of the Government, are strikingly consistent in their reporting. In reviewing the press reports the only difficulty I have is that all witnesses interviewed were obviously Uyghur and were unanimous in their denouncement of the crimes and the brutality.This, of course, is not unreasonable given 93% of the population of Hotan is Uyghur and it occurred near the Uyghur markets where it would be unlikely for many Han to live. It just felt, however, by the reported comments, that the media were attempting to reinforce something, perhaps the Uyghur terrorist angle? perhaps something else?

The Uyghur exile organisations, on the other hand, quoted witnesses saying that a disturbance was seen to occur in the market area but definitely not the police station. They did not, however, say they saw any serious violence by either side.

So the bottom line from a witness point of view is that categorically no-one saw anything of the violence as it was supposed to have played out. How do 18 people die in such circumstances with no independent witnesses?

Photographic Evidence

On the left are several photos that emerged from the incident.

The first photo appears to show armed police entering the building, guns drawn and a fairly tense atmosphere.

 This photo is of the entrance to the police station. This is rather telling from a number of viewpoints. Firstly the picture is taken some time after the incident, minutes maybe, because it appears an ambulance is in attendance.

Secondly the policeman with gun drawn appears more interested in what may come rather then what is inside.

There is no evidence to be seen in this picture of any major disturbance.

There is no external fire damage. No scattered remains of spent cartridges and the normal bric a brac that is usually seen at the site of a riot cum massacre. And more importantly no sign of the banners that were supposed to be draped from the roof by the rioters. Surely an image like that would have confirmed the government's version of events.

We then have pictures of internal damage. It is worth to note that the pictures reportedly of internal damage do not bear the new agency's watermark, however, views through windows of a white railing is consistent with the building and its perimeter.The internal photos confirm an incident inside the station with fire damage and ransacking evident.

The last photo is of an injured person on a gurney about to loaded onto a waiting ambulance. The photo just lacks the "feeling" of moment that you would think would attend such a major incident .An ambulance is parked in the same position as the one in the entrance photo.Why so few ambulances?

The death and injury Toll

Something else that is of strange is why the full extent of the death toll was not revealed by the Chinese until 24 hours after the incident. Several reports over that time frame continued to state that four had been killed and "several" rioters shot dead. Even after the Uyghur exile groups had been quoting a figure of around twenty dead the Government would not commit to a figure. Why? Surely it would have been a case of just counting bodies. It could be argued that the Government was stalling in it's release of Uyghur death numbers to have time to bolster up security elsewhere in Xinjiang in anticipation of a possible backlash, a reasonable conclusion to arrive at it would have to be agreed. Alternatively, it could equally be said that the time delay was to allow some sort of cover up.

Another question that it is reasonable to ask is how do police kill 14 people unless those people are in a tight bunch, as in a crowd, or, a confined space? Hard I would suggest.

Also, two Han women were reportedly killed out of six women in the police station at the time, the others being Uyghur. Again, it would be easier to accept that the Uyghurs would kill Han but not other Uyghurs, but, again something does not feel right about this aspect of the Chinese government's story. Perhaps, the very fact that through all the press articles, it was so understated, having been mentioned only once.

And the injured? Where did they go? Radio Free Asia contacted a local hospital and was told two people had been admitted, one, obviously from the description of "young soldier" with serious injuries, must be the one widely reported as a survivor of the police station assault. But what about the rest? Several references were made of injuries sustained by government workers at nearby buildings. An official also stated that several wounded Uyghurs were caught and were awaiting interrogation. Where were these people taken to? There are several hospitals in Hotan that is true but surely you would think that where the injured soldier was taken so would others, as it must have been the closest.


I can not help but feel there is something seriously not right about this incident for the following reasons

  • The Chinese government, the Uyghur exile organisations and world human rights and governments have been relatively mute given the very serious nature of this incident and it's potential political volatility. Why? 
  • There are no eye witnesses. Why? 18 dead, unknown number injured, gun fight, police station on fire and no independent eye witnesses? 
  • The images released show something had transpired at the police station but nothing in those photos would suggest the enormity of what had been reported. One ambulance and a handful of police? No spent cartridges, no blood splattered ground, no scattered shoes, no evidence of external fire damage, nothing. 
  • You can not, I believe, have 18 deaths without a considerable number of non fatal injuries. Where did the injured go? Why was the extent of the injured not enumerated even to now?. 
  • Why did this occur in a peaceful town with no significant history of violence? Kashgar, Urumqi, Yining yes, not Hotan. Especially when in 2008 1000 protested for a very valid and serious reason but with no deaths or significant injuries occurring. This current incident reportedly involved 100 and resulted in a massacre. Why? 
  • If 14 Uyghurs were gunned down and two Han women were killed by Uyghurs you would not wish to have been in Hotan and half of the country's security forces would have been sent there very quickly. This does not seem to be the case.Why? Did the government know that this incident would not escalate? 

I am going to put my neck out here.

Something did occur on the 18th of July 2011 in Hotan, Xinjiang. There was, I believe, a demonstration in the city's Grand Bazaar either planned or spontaneous. Being a non market day and given the reportedly few involved, I would suggest it was spontaneous. Police attended and, I would once again suggest, broke it up fairly roughly. This would be why a majority of the police on duty that day were reportedly away from the station supposedly "door knocking" when the attack on the police station occurred.

Whilst the majority of police were attending the bazaar a person, or persons, most likely Uyghur, gained entry into the police station, by whatever means, and caused a problem, the extent of which can not be, without reasonable doubt, ascertained. The only non aligned witness in all reports was the person RFA spoke to at the hospital and she could only confirm one seriously injured young soldier and one other injured person.

I would contend that there was not a major incident on the 18th to the extent it was reported. The government has, for whatever reason, attempted to cover up the real story. Whether someone had jumped the gun and grossly over reported a minor incident or that the Chinese Government was worried that the real story might emerge, that is, that what occurred was a successful takeover of a virtually unmanned police station by a small number of Uyghurs.

Their reason? Embarrassment and fear that the government's cloak of invincibility would have been torn away and thus inviting far greater disturbances and with subsequent "social disharmony" on a rather large scale.

See follow up report on Hotan Incident  Hotan attack takes a toll on business (and logic)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Sad Week in China's Coal Mines

A Sad Week Indeed

I had much reason to be happy when I saw an article in the China Daily June 28th on the YTD results concerning the incidence of coal mine accidents and fatalities in China. 

For the period, accidents reported officially, stood at 512, down 21.25% on the corresponding period in 2010. More heartening was that fatalities were down 35% with only 807 deaths.

The full year figure for fatalities in 2010 was 2423 and, as you will see from the following table, deaths in the coal mining industry in China have fallen considerably since their high of 6,995 in 2002 which, coincidentally, was when I first started taking an interest in the issue.

Before going on I will make the point that these are official figures, that is, figures released by the Chinese Government of reported accidents and deaths. They are most definitely not the real figures. For a variety of reasons it is most likely that all the figures quoted above for accident numbers and fatalities can be increased by a factor of four. In 2002, for example, estimated deaths by informed commentators and human rights organisations were placed around the 20-25,000 mark.

The reasons for this under reporting are numerous and whilst the Chinese Government knows this to be the case in it's defence it can only publicise what is reported to the relevant local officials and, maybe then, upwards to the Central Government. One of the problems is in the structure of the industry which is made up of four elements.

The industry consists of four types of mines namely:
  • National Strategic Mines (NSM's) Nationally run companies numbering some 268 and accounting for 51% of production.
  • Provincial National Mines (PNM's)  owned by provincial governments  numbering some 4,000 mines and producing 13% of production.
  • Township Mines (TM's) numbering 12,000 approximately and owned by local governments and private organisations.
  • Illegal operations, statistics unknown.

NSM's and PNM's are well regulated and all statistics emanating from them can be relied upon. As well, by world standards, they are reasonably safe.

The problem regarding reporting arises from TM's and illegal operations, where by virtue of their very illegality and/or the corruption of officials, greatly exacerbate problems in gathering correct statistics. There are many stories of cover ups including instances of faked death certificates. It is in these two categories that the most fatalities and accidents occur, reported on not reported.

Back however to the current situation unfolding.

My delight over the press release on June 28 was shattered when, within days of my 'tweeting" these very encouraging results, news came to hand of what was to be the first of five accidents to occur in the following five days. Accidents in Guangxi, Guizhou, Shanxi, Shandong and Xinjiang ensued claiming 8 lives and, till now, sees 70 miners still trapped with little likelihood of rescue. A horrific toll by any one's standards.

The question most people will have is why? The answer to that question is easy, the solution is not.

  • Firstly, it is the very nature of coal mining operations in China. Due to terrain, and, location of the veins, coal mining is mostly underground tunneling unlike in the US and Australia, the other major coal mining nations, where most mining is open cut and surface operations. Underground mining is, and will always be, inherently more dangerous.
  • Secondly, weather considerations. Underground mining in areas prone to considerable rainfall are always in danger from subsidence and landslides.This can be seen in three of the five accidents we now look at.
  • Thirdly, the industry has five million workers and hundreds of thousand mines legal and illegal, almost impossible to supervise from an OH&S standpoint.
  • Fourthly, most of the workers in the non NSM's are poorly educated migrant workers who lack technical skills and safety awareness.
  • Fifthly, small scale operations lacking good management and equipment.
  • And, lastly, lack of organised labour unions to safeguard workers rights.

What then is the solution? Well as can be seen from the above figures significant inroads have been made over the last decade. The Central Government has worked hard to reduce accidents and fatalities and is succeeding. Unfortunately, the Chinese political system is such that directives from the Central Government can be delayed in their implementation or ignored totally depending on how deep 'lower down' officials hands are in other people's pockets.

We will never see fatality rates as low as the US or Australia that is a given, however they can be further reduced.

  1. Corruption is the most significant factor in the number of fatalities. If illegal mines are closed down, if safety standards are policed and enforced we will see strikingly marked improvements in mine safety.
  2. More significant legal and financial penalties need to be placed on owners of legal mines for accidents and deaths.
  3. Better OH&S training and oversight of mine managers. You just do not send miners down a shaft after a week of torrential rains,
  4. Reduced working hours. I have not got the statistics at hand just now but my gut feeling tells me that most accidents occur later in the week and on weekends when extreme tiredness must be setting in and miners let their guard down on safety.
  5. The allowing of organised labour movements. Though, with the Chinese penchant for Guanxi, this wish may be a pipe dream and, at the very best, a long way off.
I believe, as I am sure we all do, that regardless of how dangerous our jobs are that we have a reasonable expectation that when we kiss our loved ones good bye in the morning that we can kiss them hello in the night.

It is too easy to just pass over these incidents and reports. If it happened in a western mine would we be so blase? I think not. So if you are a blogger blog on the issue if your a tweeter tweet and retreat others. It is the very least we owe these poor people and their families.